"Mean it," I whispered. "Please."

Was it really such a loathsome idea? Would he rather die than change me? I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach.

"No." Edward's voice is low, dead. Final.

A sob is choking me, caught in my throat. Tears prick at my eyeballs. The room is damp, and my clothes feel icy against my skin.

"I'll give you what you want," Edward says to Aro, stepping forward. The sudden distance between us is like a chasm. I feel myself teetering on the edge. I would give anything in this moment to be able to read his mind.

Aro's ancient face lights up in fascination; his maroon eyes glinting. Jane lets out a hiss, glaring at us in dismay and open hostility. Alec reaches for her hand, but she snatches it away.

"You let her go from here, safely," Edward continues. "You don't follow her, you don't monitor her. You trust what I'm saying; that she will never reveal what she knows."

"And?" Aro's eyebrow arches, his grin a rictus of cold delight.

"And I will stay here, and join the Guard."

No. No, no, no. What is he doing? I step toward him, but the tall vampire behind me grasps my arm.

"You will serve this family?" Aro gestures lazily at the vampires gathered around us. "You will pledge allegiance just as every other here in this room has done?"

Caius is scowling fiercely at Edward, leaning forward in his chair as if he might pounce at any second.

"Yes," Edward whispers. "In exchange for Bella's life."

My sob breaks free as I collapse to the floor, kneecaps slamming to the unforgiving stone. I cry out Edward's name, but he doesn't turn around.

Aro claps his ivory hands like a small child. I look up at him, almost blinded by hot tears. I'd thought that nothing would surpass the heartbreak I felt when Edward left me in the forest, but now I'd trade everything for that numbness in place of this searing, shattering pain. He can't stay here. He can't choose these creatures over his family, over me!

Aro gestures dismissively at my crumpled form. "Felix, deliver her to the outside. Heidi should be back soon with the evening meal, and we wouldn't want anyone getting...confused, now, would we?"

Before I know it, Felix has lifted me effortlessly to my feet as I struggle and scream. His cloak tangles around my legs. One preternaturally strong arm closes across my chest, holding my arms to my side. It becomes agonizing to draw breath, but I continue to cry out. "Edward! EDWARD!"

Aro sighs, "Not like that, obviously. She'll frighten our guests."

Edward's shoulders are slumped, his hands balled in fists at his side. Why won't he turn around?

Felix's cold fingers close around my throat. Already gasping through my tears, my air supply disappears all together. My lungs burn; my heart pounds. I am still screaming Edward's name inside my head, wishing with everything I have that he could hear my thoughts. And then the fight starts to go out of me, and all I can feel is the icy steel of Felix's grip as I get swallowed whole by the darkness.